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World’s river deltas sinking due to human activity, says new study led by CU-Boulder

A new study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder indicates most of the world’s low-lying river deltas are sinking from human activity, making them increasingly vulnerable to flooding from rivers and ocean storms and putting tens of millions of people at risk.

While the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report concluded many river deltas are at risk from sea level rise, the new study indicates other human factors are causing deltas to sink significantly. The researchers concluded the sinking of deltas from Asia and India to the Americas is exacerbated by the upstream trapping of sediments by reservoirs and dams, man-made channels and levees that whisk sediment into the oceans beyond coastal floodplains, and the accelerated compacting of floodplain sediment caused by the extraction of groundwater and natural gas.

The study concluded that 24 out of the world’s 33 major deltas are sinking and that 85 percent experienced severe flooding in recent years, resulting in the temporary submergence of roughly 100,000 square miles of land. About 500 million people in the world live on river deltas.

Published in the Sept. 20 issue of Nature Geoscience, the study was led by CU-Boulder Professor James Syvitski, who is directing a $4.2 million effort funded by the National Science Foundation to model large-scale global processes on Earth like erosion and flooding. Known as the Community Surface Dynamic Modeling System, or CSDMS, the effort involves hundreds of scientists from dozens of federal labs and universities around the nation…
(20 Sept 2009)

Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone’ to grow dramatically due to federal biofuel mandate

Bryan Nelson, mother nature network
Every year copious amounts of fertilizer and nutrient-rich sentiment dump into the Gulf of Mexico from the mouth of the Mississippi River, feeding massive algae blooms so large that they starve the ocean of oxygen. These oxygen-depleted waters, which last year grew to the size of Massachusetts, form a vast “dead zone” completely devoid of all marine life.

Now a new study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, says the problem stands to get far worse if the U.S. follows through on its current federally-mandated efforts to increase annual biofuel production to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

The federal mandate, which was passed by Congress in 2007 in an effort to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil, set targets for the U.S. to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year into the U.S. fuel supply, up from the 11.1 billion gallons projected to be blended this year. That would increase biofuels’ share of the liquid-fuel mix to roughly 16% from 5%, based on U.S. Energy Information Administration fuel-demand projections.

That may be good for releasing America’s reliance on oil, but an increase in biofuel production that large would also mean more fertilizers washing off farm fields throughout the Mississippi River basin, which could be devastating to both the Gulf’s marine ecosystems and its fishing and shrimping industry.
(16 Sept 2009)

Dust Storm Blankets Sydney as Drought Bites

A huge outback dust storm swept eastern Australia and blanketed Sydney on Wednesday, disrupting transport, forcing people indoors and stripping thousands of tones of valuable farmland topsoil.

The dust blacked out the outback town of Broken Hill on Tuesday, forcing a zinc mine to shut down, and swept 1,167 km (725 miles) east to shroud Sydney in a red glow on Wednesday.

By noon on Wednesday the dust storm had spread to the southern part of Australia’s tropical state of Queensland.

Dust storms in Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, are not uncommon, but are usually restricted to the inland. Occasionally, during widespread drought, dust storms reach coastal areas…
(23 Sept 2009)
related: Dust storms spread deadly diseases worldwide

Water worries threaten U.S. push for natural gas

Jon Hurdle, Reuters
Louis Meeks, a burly 59-year-old alfalfa farmer, fills a metal trough with water from his well and watches an oily sheen form on the surface which gives off a faint odor of paint.

He points to small bubbles that appear in the water, and a thin ring of foam around the edge.

Meeks is convinced that energy companies drilling for natural gas in this central Wyoming farming community have poisoned his water and ruined his health.

A recent report by the Environmental Protection Agency suggests he just might have a case — and that the multi-billion dollar industry may have a problem on its hands. EPA tests found his well contained what it termed 14 “contaminants of concern.”…
(1 Oct 2009)

Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water

Todd Woody, The New York Times
In a rural corner of Nevada reeling from the recession, a bit of salvation seemed to arrive last year. A German developer, Solar Millennium, announced plans to build two large solar farms here that would harness the sun to generate electricity, creating hundreds of jobs.

But then things got messy. The company revealed that its preferred method of cooling the power plants would consume 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20 percent of this desert valley’s available water.

Now Solar Millennium finds itself in the midst of a new-age version of a Western water war. The public is divided, pitting some people who hope to make money selling water rights to the company against others concerned about the project’s impact on the community and the environment.

“I’m worried about my well and the wells of my neighbors,” George Tucker, a retired chemical engineer, said on a blazing afternoon.

Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year…
(29 Sept 2009)
Sent in by EB contributer William Tamblyn

Obama administration wades deeper into Delta mire

Mike Taugher, Contra Costa Times
The Obama administration said Wednesday it would seek additional scientific review of permits that reduced Delta water deliveries to farms and cities from the Bay Area to Southern California, but it was unclear whether the inquiry would be as pointed as some water users would like.

The decision to seek an outside review by a panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences came in response to a request by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who on Sept. 11 forwarded to the administration a proposed study plan developed by one of the state’s most influential water users, Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick.

The Obama administration responded by expressing confidence in the science underlying the permits, which are meant to protect Delta smelt, salmon, sturgeon and other fish from extinction.
“Nonetheless, given the unique importance of these matters, we do not object to having the science associated with Bay Delta fish protection activities presented to the National Academy of Sciences for additional scientific review,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke wrote Feinstein on Wednesday.

There were several other developments Wednesday in California’s water crisis:
The Obama administration created a six-agency directorate to coordinate federal activity in the Delta and promised to come up with measures by Dec. 15 that could be taken quickly to ease the water supply and environmental crisis. Those efforts could include wetlands restoration in Suisun Marsh, water conservation and recycling measures, levee stabilization and others…
(30 Sept 2009)